Quirke’s rising star Aisling Franciosi talks Gabriel Byrne, Ireland and the Catholic Church

The 21-year-old rising star tells RadioTimes.com about filming in her native Dublin and why her generation have become disillusioned with the Church

If you haven’t heard of Aisling Franciosi, you soon will. The star of BBC2’s creepy thriller The Fall has landed herself a starring role as young Phoebe Griffin opposite Gabriel Byrne in Quirke and makes her feature film debut next month in Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall. Not bad for a 21-year-old. 


We caught up with Aisling in between filming with Jamie Dornan and all-night parties with the stars at the Cannes Film Festival (that was her, not us, sadly) to hear all about her dark new BBC drama based on the books by John Banville…

Hi, Aisling. How was sunny Cannes?

I flew in this morning to London and I haven’t been to bed yet. I’ve just ordered a massive coffee so I can speak coherently to you. 

Sounds like a good time was had. So, Quirke. It’s set in Dublin and on the Boston coast. We’re going to hedge our bets that it wasn’t *actually* filmed in America…

No, down in Kildare! We were at a beautiful country house and then the scenes at the beach we did in Dublin. We were so lucky with the weather. 

We bet that’s not always the case in Ireland.

Haha. There were definitely days where we had rain machines in three degree weather. I think it makes Dublin look really beautiful in its own way. Because it’s set in the 1950s, it shows the most beautiful parts. I’m particularly fond of older architecture so it’s really nice to get an idea of what Dublin would have been like then with the Georgian buildings and without the modern architecture. 

And you get to channel some serious 50s fashion, too…

Yes, I find it so important that your costume is right for your character. As soon as you put it on you feel different, you walk in a completely different manner, the shoes are different. I was chatting to the person in charge of hair who said my character wouldn’t have had hair as long as mine and would I mind cutting it? I just said yes because it helped me get into character and it was easier to inhabit Phoebe. 

You got to film the bulk of your scenes with Gabriel Byrne. Not bad for a first job, eh?

First of all, he’s just one of the loveliest men. Working with him was amazing because I learned so much just by watching him. I’d done a few days on The Fall but nothing else so I told him if he had any nuggets of information, feel free to pass them on. He said, “Really? A lot of actors would hate that,” but I replied, “You’ve worked in the business far longer than I have and you have far more experience so I want you to pass that on.” I think he’s brilliant as Quirke – he’s perfect for the role. 

The first episode of Quirke paints the Catholic Church in a pretty unforgiving light – do you think it’s scarier to have an institution as the “baddie” rather than one lone villain?

Yes, absolutely because if it’s one person you feel you’re able to conquer it but if it’s an institution you can’t pinpoint where the evil is. An institution has more power than just one person, it’s far more widespread. As you see in episode one, there’s evil dotted around the place in Boston and in Ireland and it’s not the work of one person.

Gabriel’s expressed some pretty strong opinions on the Catholic Church recently, calling it a “tyrannical, evil institution” which is “anti-woman, anti-homosexual, anti-love, anti-condom, totally elitist.” Do you feel as strongly?

I would agree with most of it and I think that the Church and State should be totally separate which in Ireland they’re not really at all – not as they should be. People talk about other religions being anti-women but actually the Catholic Church is quite anti-women itself. Everyone can have their own beliefs but, obviously, one of the things that for me did have an effect – and I think for a lot of people in my generation – is when you hear more of these stories coming out about the abuse and everything like that, you can’t help but look at those facts and say, “how am I supposed to put faith and trust in an institution that is abusing the most vulnerable?” I think a lot of younger people are becoming more and more disillusioned and are definitely having their faith challenged because you can’t possibly look at those things and not question it. 

The Catholic Church, babies, American adoption – it all strikes us as quite similar to Steve Coogan’s Oscar-winner Philomena…

This is controversial but I haven’t actually seen Philomena. We filmed Quirke either just before or at the same time so it’s not like one influenced the other. It’s funny how sometimes you get lots of stories with the same topics coming out at once – people will see similarities in anything and come to their own conclusions. It’s hard but I try not to engage too much with the aftermath – once I’ve done my bit I go, ok, it’s out of my hands. Whatever happens, happens. 


The first episode of Quirke begins on Sunday at 9:00pm on BBC1